As the world marks the International Anti-Corruption Day, the Panama Deck (Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria) of the National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity, has called for stronger institutions to help tackle the menace of corruption across all facets of our national lives.
This was even as the group called for stiffer punishment for corrupt offenders, particularly public office holders, in a bid to serve as deterrent to others. The association lamented that despite the creation of anti-corruption agencies, including the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), corruption related cases, especially those involving public officials, seem to be on the rise.
More worrisome to the group is the 2021 report by Transparency International on Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released in January this year, which rated Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa, after Guinea. In the report, Nigeria scored 24/100 in 2021 and has witnessed Year-on-Year decline in CPI for 3 consecutive years (2018 – 27, 2019 – 26, 2020 – 25 and 2021-24).
This, according to the group, suggests a sustained degradation in Nigeria’s corruption perception ranking. Globally, the country ranks 154/180, reflecting a drop from the 149/180 ranking in 2020.
The group further highlighted that corruption has been known to be responsible for the slow growth rate of Nigeria’s economy, while several reasons have been attributed to its prevalence in the country. Some of the reasons include a lack of openness and transparency in public offices, weakness or absence of anti-corruption tools/mechanisms, greed, poor pay incentives or low wages, weak government institutions and ineffective political processes.
The Pyrates Confraternity lauded the modest progress recorded by the EFCC, in securing 2,220 convictions in 2021, bringing the total convictions secured by the Commission to 5,629 between 2010 and 2021. However, the group called for more transparency in the data released by the Commission, as it has not published full details of the cases and persons convicted thus far.
According to TransparencIT, the EFCC has since 2016 stopped publishing, on its website, a detailed yearly record of convictions it has secured, and persons convicted of money laundering, corruption, cybercrime, advance fee fraud among others.
To ensure that the fight against corruption is taken more seriously, the Pyrates Confraternity further called on the EFCC to ensure diligent prosecution its cases, as some of its lost cases were due to poor prosecution. Besides, the group urged the judiciary to up its game, by ensuring timely dispensation of justice, noting that in the long run, justice delayed is justice denied. Furthermore, the Pyrates Confraternity frowned at the disproportionate punishment meted out to convicted corrupt offenders. According to the group, a situation where milder sentences are handed to highly placed treasury looters, while stiffer punishments are slammed on those down the ladder should be discouraged.
The Pyrates Confraternity, therefore, called for an urgent review of our laws to ensure that punishments for convicted corruption offenders carry heavier sentences, stricter bail conditions and equal application, among others, so as to discourage the act.
Other calls canvassed by the Pyrates Confraternity to deepen the fight against corruption include the establishment of special courts for speedy and efficient trial of corruption cases; mandatory introduction of Civic Studies, with special emphasis on corruption, into our school curriculum up to WAEC level; witness protection programs, to protect whistleblowers and informants as well as an efficient deployment of information technology in the fight against corruption.
The group averred that both EFCC and ICPC should be more empowered to carry out their mandates, without fear or favor, insisting that the number of cases lost due to technical flaws was unacceptable. It, therefore, called on the anti-graft agencies to ensure diligent prosecution.
There is no doubt that corruption remains a pressing issue in Nigeria, affecting public finances, in terms of lower governance effectiveness. It has also resulted in weak investment, especially in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), owing to uncertainty in economic policies. Worse still, corruption has resulted in lower human capital as fewer Nigerians, especially the poor, have been denied access to basic amenities, including healthcare and education. For the Pyrates Confraternity, the fight against corruption is not only imperative, but also essential to the survival of Nigerians and must be given a stronger bite, through stiffer penalty.